The Greensboro Sit-ins: 50 years later

Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Feb 1, 2010 in Randomness | Subscribe

Today marks the start of Black History Month here in the United States, but more importantly it also marks the 50th anniversary of the Greensboro Sit-ins — a movement that began when four freshmen at the Agricultural & Technical College of North Carolina (now N.C. A&T State University) decided to demand service at a segregated F.W. Woolworth’s lunch counter.

Photo of the Greensboro Four sitting at the Woolworth lunch counter

The Greensboro Four in 1960

Their non-violent protest would catalyze the civil rights movement in North Carolina and elsewhere in the South, inspire the creation of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee months later, and provide political momentum for the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (which outlawed discrimination in “public accommodations”) and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

What a difference 50 years can make :)

This morning the International Civil Rights Center & Museum officially opened where that Woolworth’s once stood.1 The country finally elected its first black President in Barack Obama. Students across the country can focus on their academic studies without worrying if they’re going to be beaten or lynched. Interracial dating is almost passé. The list goes on.

When I learned about the civil rights movement in high school — an occasionally sensitive topic growing up in a state that elected the country’s first black Governor when I was 8 but also awkwardly commemorated Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. all on the same day until I was 19 — I always wondered if I’d be able to demonstrate the same courage had I been in the same situation. Realistically: no.2

But I’m thankful for them just the same, especially when I get up in the morning for my daily drive to one of the most diverse law schools in the country.3

There’s always more to be done of course. Just last month Columbia’s School of Law released a study noting decreased minority enrollment in law school even as the number of seats available increased. All 5 of the HBCU’s4 in the University of North Carolina system are searching for ways to improve retention and graduation rates without limiting access by becoming more selective in admissions. Even the devastation in earthquake-stricken Haiti has roots in our historical racial divide.

If things can change so much in 50 years, however, I’m optimistic for what the next 50 will bring for all of us :D

More info on the ICRCM opening and the 1960 sit-in:

  1. I was hoping to make it out to the unveiling, but when I got up at 5am to make the drive for the 6am breakfast I was greeted with streets full of ice :( []
  2. You can see some of the violence sit-in protestors had to endure in the PBS documentary “February One”. []
  3. When it’s not snowing — we’ve got another 2-hour delay tomorrow, plus a forecast for even more wintry precipitation tomorrow night and Friday. You know you’re in the South when a little snow/ice shuts things down for days :beatup: []
  4. HBCU = Historically Black College or University. Contrast with PWI = Predominantly White Institution []

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